April 25, 2007 1:17 AM | By Adam Roberts | 18 Comments

Burma Superstar


Brett had Bay Area bloggers buzzing. "Where is he taking you?" they asked when I told them about our e-mail exchange. The exchange went like this:

Me: I want to meet you!

Brett: Great! Let's meet for lunch Thursday.

Me: Ok. But there's a problem.

Brett: What?

Me: I'm going to MANRESA that night and I don't want to eat too big a lunch.

Brett: Hmmm... Ok, I've thought it over and I have the perfect place.

Me: You do?

Brett: Yes. It's a surprise. See you Thursday!

So I told everyone he had a perfect place but that it was a surprise and everyone was anxious to know what it was. So was I. He picked me up near where I was staying in the Castro and drove me north or south or east or west, I really have no idea. I do know he said we were in the more authentic Chinatown. And then he said, "Here we are," and we were there in front of the best-named restaurant in the history of restaurants: Burma Superstar.

Some background first: Brett is the cheerily unpretentious chef/host of In Praise of Sardines, a much beloved site on the web that features stories, chef tricks and travel accounts which have earned him a loving audience. Lately, though, Brett's site has become uniquely interesting: now it's an online account of his exploits opening his own restaurant, Olallie, which will debut in the Fall of 2007 in the Noe Valley neighborhood.

So I was in good company when we sat down at Burma Superstar. I had tons to ask him--how do you design a restaurant? How will you manage the staff? How will you choose the menu?--but I was also hungry. So Brett studied the Burma Superstar menu and I told him to choose his favorites, I'm very open minded:


The place, by the way, was buzzing. Apparently at night there's a huge wait; by day we only waited around ten minutes. I loved its authenticity (when I went to the bathroom, I peeked into the kitchen and saw unique cooking vessels and cooking utensils---wok-like pots with various liquids bubbling away). I also loved the enthusiasm of the staff: our waitress steered us through the menu with great energy and care.

Brett and I drank Ginger Lemonade:


A perfectly balanced beverage with just the right amount of ginger.

Then for the coolest dish: Tea Leaf Salad.


According to the Burma Superstar website the salad has: "urmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp (or vegetarian), fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas."

The waitress tossed it table-side so it ended up looking like this:


What a salad! I wish you could eat this salad. If you live in the area, you really should go right now and eat this salad. I'll wait.

It's just one of those salads or dishes that create a synaptic event in your brain, a taste memory that wasn't there before. The depth of flavor brought by the tea leaves and then how they're combined with everything else is really extraordinary. Worthy of a superstar title.

We had Vegetarian Samusa Soup:


It had "samusas broken up with falafels, lentils, cabbage, and onions." I loved how the falafel still stayed crispy and firm in the soup, and though it was slightly too spicy for my taste, I could see myself loving this in winter.

At the suggestion of the waitress, we had the Vegetable Curry Deluxe:


This had eggplants, squash, tomatoes and tofu and though it was really well prepared, it was my least favorite dish because I feel like I've had the same elsewhere and just as good. Not true this noodle dish:


This, I think (Brett ordered), was the Bun Tay Kauswer: "Flour noodles with a stronger coconut curry sauce, split yellow pea, eggs, cabbage, and fried onions." (I'm guessing it was that one because of the eggs.) I've never had anything like it and that's enough to recommend it alone. It wasn't as good as the tea leaf salad, but what is?

All in all, this was an outstanding choice for lunch by Brett. The Bay Area bloggers were right to buzz. And even if it had been a bad choice, it was a treat to get to spend time with such a knowledgable but unassuming guy. Can't wait to see how Olallie develops and, more importantly, I can't wait to visit again and eat there! Thanks Brett for a great day.

[UPDATE: Read Brett's take on our lunch here!.]


i am moving to sf in june and will be going to that restaurant immediately from the airport!! that tea leaf salad sounds heavenly!

thanks for checking all these places out- now i know exactly where to eat in my new residence :)

Even though I had never heard of this place, as soon as I read "a more authentic Chinatown" I knew that you must have been in the Richmond district. It is astounding how many excellent and reasonably priced Chinese restaurants are in that area (and a really good Cambodian, if I recall). It has been that way at least since I left the Bay Area a decade ago; I wonder why it still doesn't get the press in a broader manner?
The food looked great!

I LOVE this place!!! Did you hear the story behind it? The original owners were going to sell the place much to the dismay of some very dedicated regulars. So the couple decided to buy their favorite restauant and keep it going. Their passion really shines through in the food as well as the warm friendly service.

Burma Superstar is one of my favorites. I took my sister there when she visited from NYC too (though I'm sad you didn't have the coconut curry noodles...next time!). At night, if you have the special number (and no, I am not giving it out here) you can call ahead, add your name to the waiting list, and then go grab a beer down the street. They'll ring you when your table is ready. Makes the inevitably long wait less painful.

That place is great! I loved the tea leaf salad as well. And their burma cooler is amazing. I think it's beer, ginger, lemon and something else.

Also, before you leave SF, be sure to stop at Citizen Cake for breakfast, brunch or lunch. You may have to make reservations ahead of time because they're really busy, but it's definitely worth it. Just make sure not to leave without getting dessert - that's the best part!

Hey! Now these pictures are coming out much clearer and I presume without the flash. My I ask what settings you're using? I too am trying to enhance my non-flash picture taking abilities.

Not only did you go to a good restaurant, but it looks like you ordered all the right things on the menu. (Well, except the dish recommended by the waitress. I've decided that dish recommended by the servers are those that the kitchen wants to get rid of! Ha!) Nice to see that you had a mix of fancy restaurants but also good solid neighborhood haunts during your trip to SF.

Looks like you had a nice lunch. Thanks for the introduction to Brett. I can't believe I hadn't seen his blog before.

I have to make Burma Superstar a stop the next time I am out there. I go to Burma once a year, and miss the food! Adam, if you want those tealeaves, let me know. I have some that I brought back from Burma.... =)

So glad you had a salad! Burmese salad are delicious. I had one recently with ginger and garlic chips.

I would recomend burmese noodle dishes vs curries. I have had the same experience when eating the curry that it's nothing new but the noodle dishes are usually very unusual and exciting

Yes, this is a favorite of mine also, expecially the soup!

I've really enjoyed the blog over the last week, and will still continue to read, but I must admit that now that you are back home across the country it will be a bit of an exercise in frusteration! (although I am originally from Connecticut and get out to New York reasonably often). You don't know any permanent Bay Area residents who have a blog similar to yours, do you? :)

Hey Adam,

You do know there's a Burmese place at 2nd and 72nd? I always thought it was great, particularly the mango curry and the Phe- Htoke (dumplings). They have tea leaf salad as well.

I wonder if it lives up to SF standard?

- M

Thanks for writing up our lunch, Adam! I had fun, too. You're a good sport for going along with my surprise (I wrote about some of the other places I considered for our lunch together in a post on my site today. Your pictures came out great! The key for us blogger types is always to get that coveted seat next to the window so we get natural light. And to Catherine, don't be sad. We did have the coconut curry noodles (see the last picture)!

omg..i LOVE that place.... i dated a boy back in the day that used to live in the area and we went all the time... now ive got a hankering for that tea salad again... *YUM*

i wonder if there are any good burmese restaurants in NYC?!?!

Brett did well by you, Adam (and of course he would, what a guy!). Burma Superstar is a favorite of mine (and many other San Franciscians). It's the only restaurant whose number I have programmed into my cell phone--for ordering takeout on the way back home (that line for dinner is crazy).

That tea leaf salad is addictive--I find myself craving it days later. Whoever that commenter is who offered tea leaves from Burma, I'd take them up on it (jeeze, first free truffle dinners, now tea leaves from Burma; you've got the life!:-)

Thanks for a great gustatory tour of my hometown, you've done us proud!

Just discovered your blog, and I love it! It's too bad that I didn't know about it before your trip to SF, as that's where I grew up (now living in New York, of course).

As a child, my family used to go to Burma Superstar a lot because my mom's familly is from Burma and we live in the Richmond district. But for the last few years we've been favoring a different Burmese restaurant just a few blocks away from Burma Superstar: Mandalay. I have to go there every time I'm back in SF, and now they know pretty much exactly what we're going to order as soon as they see us come in the door.

There is a Burmese restaurant in NY (Mingala, which has a couple of locations), but I don't think it's good as either Mandalay or Burma Superstar. It's fine in a pinch (the Village location is better than the uptown one, in my opinion), but unfortunately they don't serve my favorite dish: Chin Mong Jaw, which is spicy sour vegetables and prawns.

If you do try Mingala, get the Ong No Kaw Soi (pronounced "oh no cow sway"), a chicken coconut curry noodle soup served with lemon and crunchy fried onions. Also, the Moo Hin Nga (pronounded "mo hing gaw"), a rich fish noodle chowder. And you must have the paratha (aka "thousand layer pancake"). It's kind of like a cross between Indian paratha (but much fluffier, thanks to more layers) and Chinese scallion pancake (without the scallion). It's delicous when paired with curry. As a kid, I also used to love Let-Thok (a room temperature noodle salad), but it's been a long time since I've had it at Mingala, so I'm not sure if I can recommend it in good faith.

You know, as I type this, I realize that even though I don't like Mingala as much as my two SF spots, it's still nice to be able to get Burmese food in NY. Since it sounds like you're a Burmese food novice, I encourage you to try it out and compare it to Burma Superstar for yourself. Enjoy!

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